Global Climate Litigation

Following the success in the Urgenda Climate Case, citizens around the world are taking their governments to court over their insufficient climate policies.  Urgenda also initiated the Climate Litigation Network to support climate cases worldwide. 

New Zealand

In November 2015, the New Zealand law student Sarah Thomson took her government to court for its insufficient climate ambitions. The case was heard in court between 26 and 28 June 2017. On 2 November 2017, the High Court in Wellington issuedits ruling. The Court held that climate change presents significant global risks and that the government is legally accountable for its actions to address climate change. The Court determined that the New Zealand Minister for Climate Change had acted unlawfully by failing to review the country’s climate change targets for 2050 after the publication of most recent IPCC Assessment Report. The Court refrained from issuing an order against the government, as the newly elected government took up office in October 2017 and committed itself to a target of CO2-neutrality in 2050. Thomson is considering whether or not to continue her action, depending on the details of the new government’s policy. More information on the case is available here. You can download the statement of claim and the judgement of the court here and here.

India

On 22 March 2017, nine-year-old Ridhima Pandey filed a petition against the government of India in the National Green Tribunal. Pandey asserts that the Indian government has failed to fulfil its duties to her and the Indian people to mitigate climate change, as it falls short of meeting the emission reduction policies and standards it has set for itself.

In her petition, Pandey asks the Tribunal to order the government of India to prepare a carbon budget and national climate recovery plan in accordance with international agreements and scientific consensus. The petition filed by Pandey is available here.

Switzerland

On 26 May 2017, a group of senior Swiss women (the Klimaseniorinnen, Senior Women for Climate Protection) filed a legal complaint against the Swiss Government (the Federal Council) and three responsible authorities in the Federal Administrative Court. The complaint asserted that the Government’s climate policies are unlawful and violate constitutional and human rights because they fail to limit warming to the politically agreed ‘safe level’. The senior women demanded an immediate increase in the ambition of national mitigation targets for 2020 and 2030.

 

In November 2018, the Federal Administrative Court dismissed the case, ruling that the women are not particularly affected by the government’s climate change mitigation measures beyond the impact on the general public. The women appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court in January 2019. The court’s decision can be found in German and English here and here, and the appeal filing is here (German). More information about the case can be found here.

Ireland

On 23 October 2017, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) launched a legal challenge against the Government’s failure to take the required action to avert dangerous climate change. FIE claims that the Irish National Mitigation Plan – one of the main planks in the Government’s climate change policy – does not do enough to reduce Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions and is a violation of Ireland’s Climate Act, the Irish Constitution and human rights obligations. FIE also claims that the Plan falls short of the steps required by the Paris Agreement on climate change. The High Court of Ireland gave permission to proceed with the lawsuit, and the case was heard on 22 January 2019. More information on the case can be found on the Climate Case Ireland website, and news coverage of the hearing is available here. Supporters can sign on the website to tell the Irish Government “This case is also in my name!”

Belgium

In 2014, 11 concerned Belgian citizens united to challenge the inadequate climate policies of the Belgian government, as well as several regional governments. On 1 June 2015 association Klimaatzaak (Climate Case) filed their statement of claim to the court. Since the start of the case more than 54,000 Belgians joined in the call for more ambitious climate policies and added their names as co-plaintiffs.

One of the regional governments (Flanders) addressed in the case challenged the decision of the Klimaatzaak to file the case in French, effectively blocking the case from being heard on the merits. In early 2018, the Belgian Court of Cassation ruled that the case will proceed in French. A final judgment is expected in late 2020. More information on the case is available here.

United States

In 2015, 21 young people filed a climate change claim against the U.S. government in the District Court of Oregon. In the case, also known as Youth v. Trump, the young Americans claim that for decades their government has actively contributed to causing climate change and that in doing so it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.

In November 2016 the youth survived an attempt by the government and fossil fuel industry to have the case thrown out of court at an early stage. In a landmark opinion and order the federal district court of Oregon held that “the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society,” rejecting the government’s motions to dismiss the case. Since then, the Trump administration has made several applications to stay the trial, which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have repeatedly denied. The government’s latest appeal of the 2016 decision is currently pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, leading to a delay of the trial, which had been set for October 2018. In January 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the young people’s request to fast-track the government’s appeal. In February 2019, the youth applied for a court order to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure development until the case is decided. More information on the case can be found here.

Germany

In October 2018, Greenpeace Germany, with three German families who are organic farmers, filed a lawsuit against the German government, claiming that the government’s failure to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target violates the families’ rights to life and health, property, and occupational freedom, as well as European law. They are asking the court to declare that the government is legally obligated to still comply with its 2020 target. The statement of claim (in German) can be found here, and a summary of pleas (in English) here. More information about the case can be found here.

Canada

In November 2018 Quebec-based environmental nonprofit, ENvironnement JEUnesse, initiated the first stage of a class action lawsuit against the Canadian government on behalf of all the citizens of Quebec under the age of 35. They argue that the government’s GHG reduction targets are inadequate, and that failing to take aggressive action to avoid catastrophic climate change violates the fundamental rights of young people under Canadian and Quebec human rights charters. In the first stage of the proceedings, ENvironnement JEUnesse must convince the court that it has an arguable case. More information about the case can be found here. The application in French and English can be found here and here.

France

In December 2018, four nonprofits began the process of filing a climate change claim against the French government, by sending a letter of formal notice. In the letter, Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme, Greenpeace France, Notre Affaire à Tous, and Oxfam France claim that the government has not done enough to effectively address climate change, and that this has violated a statutory duty to act on climate change. The French government has two months to formally respond to the letter, after which the nonprofits can officially file a case in the Administrative Court of Paris.

The letter of formal notice is here (in French; unofficial English translation here). Supporters of the case can sign a petition on the L’Affaire du Siecle website. More information about the case can be found here.

UK

Climate charity Plan B and 11 members of the public aged 9 to 79 filed a climate change case against the UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in December 2017. The claimants argued that the UK’s 2050 climate target, set in 2008, was not in line with the Paris Agreement nor with new scientific evidence. They argued that the Secretary of State should legally have to increase the target. In July 2018, the High Court decided not to hold a full hearing of the case, finding that Plan B’s arguments had no prospect of success. Plan B and the 11 members of the public appealed to the Court of Appeals, which rejected the appeal in January 2019, agreeing with the High Court. The order of the Court of Appeals can be found here. More information can be found here.

Colombia

25 young people from ages 7-25 brought a lawsuit against the Colombian government, several local governments, and a number of corporations. The young people claimed that climate change along with the government’s failure to reduce deforestation and meet its 2020 zero-net Amazon deforestation target threatened their fundamental rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food, and water. In April 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the young people, recognizing the Colombian Amazon as having its own rights, and ordered the government to make and carry out action plans to address deforestation in the Amazon. The Supreme Court decision (in Spanish) can be found here. More information about the case can be found here.

EU

In May 2018 ten families, including children, filed a climate change case in the EU General Court against the EU Parliament and Council. The families, from Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Kenya, Fiji, and the Swedish Sami Youth Association Sáminuorra, claim that the EU’s 2030 climate target is not enough to prevent dangerous climate change nor to protect their fundamental rights of life, health, occupation and property. The applicants argue that the EU target of a 40% reduction in domestic GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2030 is unlawful and that a greater level of ambition is required. The European Parliament and the Council have argued that the case is inadmissible. A decision by the Court on admissibility is expected. The application can be found here and more information on the case can be found here.

Pakistan

Asghar Leghari, a Pakistani farmer, brought a climate change case against the Pakistani government for failing to implement its national climate change law and policy. In 2015, the Green Bench of the Lahore High Court upheld the claim, invoking the right to life and the right to dignity. Finding that the government had done little to carry out its national climate law, the court directed government ministries to each nominate a focal point to ensure implementation and present a list of action points. The court also created a Climate Change Commission, mandated to monitor the government’s progress. The court decision can be found here.

THE OSLO PRINCIPLES

On 30 March 2015 the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations were launched, formulated by an international group of eminent jurists, including High Court judges, law professors and advocates from countries such as Brazil, China, India, the US and the Netherlands. The Oslo principles hold that regardless of the existence of international agreements, governments already have a legal obligation to avert the harmful effects of climate change, based on existing international human rights law, environmental law and tort law.

 

The Oslo group endorses the arguments that Urgenda brings forward in its climate case and also provides support to initiatives in other countries to involve the courts in their efforts to contain climate change.

On April 8, Dutch daily newspaper Trouw published an extensive interview with Jaap Spier, Advocate-General to the Dutch Supreme Court, concerning the Oslo Principles and the Urgenda climate case. According to Spier, ‘Courts can force countries to adopt effective climate policies. Court cases are perhaps the only way to break through the political apathy about climate change.’
From the article: Does a judge need to be an activist in order to make a statement about climate change? “No”, says Spier, “it is just a matter of applying existing law, although undoubtedly not all judges will be open to this. Judges with the courage to give a ruling on this will one day be applauded, whereas those who don’t will eventually be tarred and feathered.”

An informal translation of the interview can be downloaded here. The Guardian published this piece on the Oslo principles by two legal experts.